Former WA official Paul Whyte sentenced to 12 years in prison for stealing millions of taxpayers

The corrupt Western Australian bureaucrat at the center of Australia’s single largest case of public sector fraud has been sentenced to 12 years. in prison for planning the theft of $ 27 million in taxpayers’ money and using it to fund a lavish lifestyle.

Paul Ronald Whyte, 58, appeared at the sentencing hearing via a video link from Hakea Prison, where he has been held since he was arrested.

He wore prison greens and appeared to have lost weight during his two years behind bars.

Whyte will have to serve 10 years behind bars before he is eligible for probation, and with time already served, he will first be able to be released in 2029.

He committed his crimes for 11 years while he was one of WA’s top officials in the state government department that runs public housing.

But instead of making sure the state’s most vulnerable people had access to a roof over their heads, he spent millions of dollars on his own accounts and used it to live beyond his means, including buying a riverside mansion and extravagant betting.

The funds were taken through a complex fake invoice scheme that involved three shell companies – without staff or employees – repeatedly submitting false invoices to Whyte’s department.

Whyte’s offense lasted for more than a decade.(ABC News: Hugh Sando)

The companies were not listed as official state contractors, but the bills – for various sums – were paid after being approved by Whyte, whose job was to oversee the department’s corporate operations.

The funds were paid into accounts to which Whyte had access and spent on an extravagant lifestyle that was far beyond the means of what his public service salary would have allowed.

Whyte continued his criminal business without suspicion, but in August 2018 WA’s corrupt watchdog received reports of what it called “questionable behavioral and lifestyle habits”.

According to a report by the Commission on Corruption and Crime (CCC), presented in the WA Parliament earlier this week, the reports contained no allegations of criminality, but due to his senior position, it was curious enough to prompt an investigation.

It led to the CCC discovering what it called “Australia’s biggest corruption of employee”.

Whyte apologizes in court through a lawyer

At the start of proceedings, Whyte’s lawyer Michael Tudori apologized on behalf of his client for the way he was dressed, saying Whyte was a “proud man” but the fact that he was in prison vegetables was beyond his control.

Judge Joseph McGrath admitted Whyte chose to appear on video and said he understood his clothing was out of his control.

Hand-drawn picture of Paul Whyte in prison greens.
Paul Whyte’s artist impression appearing in court via video link.(Delivered by: Anne Barneston)

Mr Tudori said his client had asked him to “sincerely apologize” on his behalf to “the members of his staff, to government departments … and to the people of WA” for what he had done.

Mr Tudori said Whyte was also deeply saddened by the impact of his actions on his family.

Whyte bowed his head and seemed moved when Mr Tudori detailed the shame his family was suffering from, and how his three children had part-time jobs to help pay the rent for where they now lived.

Medium shot of grimacing Michael Tudori outside court wearing suit and tie.
Whyte’s attorney Michael Tudori told the court his client asked him to “sincerely apologize” on his behalf.(ABC News: Hugh Sando)

Whyte also granted a series of money laundering charges relating to payments totaling nearly $ 5 million to the partner’s company, for work allegedly done for government projects.

The court heard that the partner contacted Whyte asking for government work because the company was struggling financially, but no work was actually done against the funds.

It was estimated that despite the misappropriated funds totaling $ 27 million, the benefit Whyte received was only $ 11 million.

State Attorney Michael Cvetkoski told the court about the money taken, $ 5.1 million was recovered, leaving an outstanding sum of more than $ 22 million that was unlikely to ever be recovered.

Mr Tudori said some restitution had been made to the state, with the family home sold as well as his interests in racehorses, which he said were effectively sold in a “fire sale”.

Mr Tudori also said Whyte had surrendered all the pensions he had accumulated during his 37-year career in the public sector.

Funds spent on racehorses, gambling

An obsession with racehorses seems to have been at the core of Whyte’s offense.

The CCC found that since 1998, Whyte has had interests in 87 of them – with 75 percent of the horses acquired after he began work in the public sector.

A large metal shield on a wall that reads: 'CCC |  Commission on Corruption and Crime.
The CCC labeled Whyte’s crimes “Australia’s biggest corruption of a public servant”.(ABC News: Benjamin Gubana)

Of the funds stolen by Whyte, Mr Cvetkoski said it was estimated that $ 3.7 million had been spent on his interest in racehorses.

Mr Cvetkoski said Whyte also helped determine that during the 11 years of his offense, he had bought an interest in at least 111 racehorses.

There were also payments to various betting agencies totaling $ 813,102, but with net losses of about $ 732,000.

Another gambling account opened in 2017 was in the name of Whyte’s partner and had losses of $ 88,500.

While Whyte managed some modest earnings from his racehorse interests, the CCC revealed that they were not enough to explain his lifestyle, which included household spending between 2012 and 2019 totaling nearly $ 1.1 million – or an average of about $ 160,000 a year.

There was also the purchase of a $ 3 million riverside mansion in the luxurious western Perth suburb of Mosman Park.

Elegant house with a car parked in front.
Whyte’s house in the exclusive suburb of Mosman Park has been the target of police raids.(ABC News: Rick Harvey)

It was not subject to a mortgage and the funds that were used in the purchase did not pass through bank accounts tied to Whyte or his partner, in whose name the property was registered.

It was where the family lived despite the ballot list, Whyte’s driver’s license, vehicle records and bank records showing they lived at another address in the same suburb.

Despite all these anomalies, the CCC said it was still “struggling to establish how his lifestyle was funded” and if there was “any serious misconduct linked to his role as a public officer”.

Scale of fraud revealed after arrest

Only in August 2019, after months and months of work, was there success when an analysis of the credit cards issued by the Whyte government found compatibility with payments to the shell companies he controlled.

The CCC survey was expanded and given the name Operation Taurus.

Secret surveillance teams used to monitor Whyte’s activities and he was seen making withdrawals from the accounts linked to his shell companies.

Within weeks, it was established by the CCC that he had personally authorized the payment of false invoices to the companies that provided no products, no services and no work to the government.

Police in vests approach Paul Whyte's Mosman Park home.
Police raided the home of Whyte’s Mosman Park in November 2019.(Provided by: WA Police)

At the time, it appeared the fraud lasted only two years and involved about $ 2.5 million.

The CCC, which does not have the power to prosecute or prosecute people, informed WA Police in October 2019, leading to Whyte’s arrest a month later after an attack on his home.

Whyte appeared in court and was granted bail, but as the investigation continued it became apparent the scale of his corruption will be huge.

Three days later, Whyte was rushed to hospital after trying to take his own life.

As he was treated for the following weeks, he gave lengthy interviews to police from his hospital bed, detailing what he had done.

As the number of charges he faced exploded to more than 500 and the amount of money stolen grew, his lawyer signaled Whyte’s intention to plead guilty.

It was also around this time that despite having a $ 1.5 million bail, Whyte decided to stay in custody to start serving what would inevitably be the long prison he was given today.

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